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Waking Up White: And Finding Myself in the Story of Race

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4.03  ·  Rating details ·  5,131 ratings  ·  935 reviews
Waking Up White is the book Irving wishes someone had handed her decades ago. By sharing her sometimes cringe-worthy struggle to understand racism and racial tensions, she offers a fresh perspective on bias, stereotypes, manners, and tolerance. As Irving unpacks her own long-held beliefs about colorblindness, being a good person, and wanting to help people of color, she ...more
ebook, 288 pages
Published January 16th 2014 by Elephant Room Press (first published January 9th 2014)
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Adrian Jackson I'm not white. I read this book. I enjoyed it and derived value from it, but there were moments when the author was trying to process her actions in…moreI'm not white. I read this book. I enjoyed it and derived value from it, but there were moments when the author was trying to process her actions in certain situations that made me, as a woman of color, sigh. (less)
Stephen Matlock It's not really a book that will be useful for most middle school students. I think the concepts are simply going to pass them by. You might have a…moreIt's not really a book that will be useful for most middle school students. I think the concepts are simply going to pass them by. You might have a particularly curious student who might find it interesting, but the book presumes an experience as a child and an adult in America that most middle school students won't have.(less)

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HBalikov
Apr 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I did not come to this book enthusiastically. If it hadn't been a book group read, I would likely have passed it by as another, "I had my epiphany and now I am a better person," read.

I think that the following is a fair quotation of what Ms. Irving is hoping to accomplish with her own journey and reflections: "How can racism possibly be dismantled until white people, lots and lots of white people, understand it as an unfair system, get in touch with the subtle stories and stereotypes that play
...more
Diane Yannick
Feb 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
Rather than blaming Debby Irving for being an entitled white woman, I'd like to thank her for opening the eyes of this entitled white reader. She didn't worry about how she presented herself; she just put herself out there for examination. Some readers tired of her liberal guilt but I chose to join her, having my own little mostly private break down about what I didn't know. BTW, I didn't even know the word micro-aggression and I've been guilty of many.

I had no idea that the GI bill was for
...more
Trish
Dec 20, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Until a couple of years ago I didn’t really think about race. I didn’t have to, being part of the majority white population of the United States. When I realized that without my attention we were not managing race well in this country, e.g., the shootings of unarmed black men moving away from the shooters, I realized I needed to understand what the heck was being perpetrated upon the non-white population in the name of my safety.

This book is written by a woman who experienced a similar kind of
...more
Angie Reisetter
Mar 07, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: firstreads
I got this from FirstReads, and when I won, I wasn't sure whether to be excited or not. This is one of those kinds of books that could easily be terrible, but I wanted to take the risk because it could also be super interesting.

It ended up being super interesting. There are a lot of things about this author's experience that are extremely different from mine. In fact, there are several things she describes having done that I recognize as things that make me avoid women like that. They drive me
...more
Sandra
Aug 21, 2014 rated it did not like it
Shelves: first-reads
* I received this book through the Good Reads First Reads giveaway *

As a Cultural Anthropologist I did not enjoy this book. The author generalized ethnic groups frequently (providing a very ethnocentric view of "people of colour"), was repetitive, and I felt overly simplified a lot of complex issues (probably to appeal to a general audience - not anthropologists and sociologists). The author's writing style was also a problem for me - I felt the story rambled, went off on tangents, came off as
...more
Melinda
Jun 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing
"I thought white was the raceless race--just plain, normal, the one against which all others were measured.

What I've learned is that thinking myself raceless allowed for a distorted frame of reference built on faulty beliefs."


Irving creates an incredible read, I couldn't put this book down. Irving has a wonderful relaxed writing style leaving the reader feeling as if they are chatting with a long time friend. The examples she shares will touch a cord with her audience in one way or another.
...more
Shelly
Sep 25, 2015 added it
Shelves: nonfiction
I've been wrestling with how to review this book. There have been several false starts on a review that sound too close to "Oh, I already know all this stuff already." I don't, not all of it, and in skimming through the book I have indeed picked up some insights I hadn't contemplated before. I think what I find annoying about this book is the "gee-whizness" of it - I guess I don't enjoy reading about someone else's epiphany when it's one I can't relate to.

So, although this sounds snarkier than I
...more
Kate
Mar 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Bravo! Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race was such an exceptional book that I do not believe I can adequately describe how impressive this book was to read. I have had the opportunity to take several college courses on multicultural issues, and I wish this book had been one of the required texts. A lot of people do not adequately understand the role of white privilege, racism, or the interplay between socioeconomic status and race. I am very appreciative of the author's ...more
Susanne
Jun 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
One of the great benefits of a Book Club is that it can lead you to books you might never have picked up otherwise. I doubt I would ever have stumbled upon this if my book group weren't reading it, and then I would have missed a real eye-opener. You don't have to identify closely with this author (I certainly wasn't raised in upper-class privilege!) to be challenged and surprised at the truth of many of her assertions. I had never considered that the mere fact of the color of my skin brought me ...more
Ira Therebel
Debbie Irving has been working to create diversity and inclusiveness for decades. In this book she goes through her biography from perspective of her trying to understand her whiteness, the privilege and racial differences. We see her childhood where she was absolutely unaware, the times when she for the first time felt something is wrong, and all the moments that kept on opening her eyes

Now, it is not that I disagree with the main message of the book, I just didn't really like the way the book
...more
Margaret
Apr 10, 2017 rated it it was ok
This might be appropriate for a very introductory level book for people who believe we live in a post-racial society or that they "don't see color." I thought it was incredibly boring, self-indulgent, and repetitive. I'm glad she's doing the work of becoming aware of racism in our society, but she commits the error of immediately turning that around and making it about herself again. White people who want to understand racism better would be better off reading books by people of color, like ...more
Kathryn
Jan 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Irving's book, "Waking Up White" chronicles her transformation from being a person who never considered race to being a racial justice educator. It's an eye-opening and candid narrative, one we should all read -- particularly those of us who are white. Even those of us who strive to be anti-racist likely haven't yet figured out how to convert our yearning for diversity into a a deep understanding of race in the United States. This book will get you started. Read it, recommend it, and discuss it.
NiaDwynwen Thomas
Apr 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A helpful book for fairly WASP-y do-gooder types like me. Its the memoir of one woman's experience "waking up" to consciousness about racism and her own whiteness, including her journey toward internal transformation and eventually activism. Written with a honest, tender tone that makes this often shame-inducing subject approachable and applicable. Also, each chapter has handy journal questions, which I quite liked.
Marti
May 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
The journey is real... I appreciate Irving's willingness to put herself out there and make herself vulnerable to us, the reader, for the sake of encouraging conversations about race. This is a conversation that is long overdue, but all of us have become experts at avoiding it to ensure the comfort of the majority.
Mehrsa
Jan 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I wish everyone could read this. Just like Tim Wise's "White Like Me," this book gives whiteness shape and form and thus shows people the contours of racism. Though I have not experienced the world as a white person and do see race everywhere, this book made me aware of a few other aspects of "white culture" that I had previously written off as just "the way the world is." For example, that talking about race is uncomfortable for white people because of a preference to just not talk about ...more
Maurice Ruffin
Mar 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book is like a companion piece to Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow. Whereas Crow focuses on the processes that lead to mass incarceration becoming a replacement for slavery and Jim Crow. Waking Up takes a more personal approach. The author, a white women, is fearless about interrogating her own racial blind spots and working shed light on them. A must read for anyone who would like to learn and grow.
Jessica
Changing rating to 2.5 stars after a couple of month of thinking about it and after reading Sullivan's Good White People which pretty much supported my initial reaction to the end of Irving's book where she provides examples of ways to engage in solidarity, such as always leaving the house dressed nicely just like black people are required to do. I was originally taken aback because that seemed to be reifying respectability politics, but since the audience for this is white people, I let it ...more
Sue
Aug 05, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
First this: Waking Up White: And Finding Myself in the Story of Race is a great title.

Debby Irving is a privileged white woman who tells of her personal journey into trying to understand race. She recounts many details of this journey, and offers them as discussion questions. I read it along with a group, and almost everyone reported that they had difficulty identifying with the author’s personal experience – EXCEPT we all learned from it. She moved from an upbringing in which one simply never
...more
Tuscany Bernier
Jan 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
This is, first of all, most likely going to be in my top 5 favorite books of the year. It was well-written for its intended audience.

Growing up in an all-white small town, I remember thinking I was sooooooo on top of cultural things because I had one half-black friend. I moved to a bigger town and realized how little I actually knew about race relations. I wanted to improve my experiences and relationships with people of color but really didn't know how.

This author really had a similar
...more
Hina
Jan 09, 2017 rated it liked it
Any book that embarks on discussing race relations, especially from the vantage point of whiteness, has a difficult jumping off point. In Waking Up White, the author outright admits that she was awoken to her elevated status over those that are not white and that is what prompted her to pen this story. The idea is commendable. The execution, at times, was difficult to stomach for a variety of reasons. Each chapter was a few pages in length, espousing some new anecdote where the author shows that ...more
Janelle
Nov 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
Waking Up White chronicles author Debby Irving's journey to awareness of her white privilege and action to become an ally. My selection of this book stemmed from a desire to talk about race and racism more easily. In the book's introduction, Irving says that the "widespread phenomenon of white people wanting to guard themselves against appearing stupid, racist, or radical has resulted in an epidemic of silence from people who care deeply about justice and love for their fellow human beings" ...more
Barbara Ann
Jul 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, arcs
“Whiteness, it turns out, is but a pigment of the imagination.” - Debby Irving ,

Debby Irving has written an enlightening, boldly honest, and refreshing narrative that describes her awakening to her own whiteness and her personal transformative journey to understand the complexity of systematic racism that is still perpetuated in society. In the preface of the book, Irving reminds readers how important it is to dismantle racial barriers and inequalities that have become entrenched in America’s
...more
Elsa K
Sep 29, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5

There were definitely things I didn't love about this book. The author is definitely not a practiced author. It was easy to read about her life, but her style got kind of boring and repetitive. I also didn't love the questions at the end of each chapter. I get that it was for a group setting, but they could've been better. I didn't agree with all of her points or even her stereo type of the dominant white culture. I grew up in the same "dominant white culture" and didn't identify with a lot
...more
Noemi
I found this book really interesting. Irving explores her journey from complacency and cultural isolation to growing racial awareness. Having lived her whole life immersed in a bubble of monoculture and comfort, both her privilege and institutional racism were invisible to her. Irving explores how what now seems so obvious was once so invisible to her.

Irving is incredibly honest about her past and current failings and misconceptions. Reading this book helped me recognize some of my own failings,
...more
Deena
Mar 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I received this book through the Goodreads giveaway.

Debby Irving grew up in a privileged white family, a true WASP. However, she took the difficult path to truly understand what race truly meant in the US. Where typical affluent individuals would be content with their heads in the sand, she asked herself the hard questions.

This book is a pretty accurate portrayal of the population of white Americans the media does not seem to want to cover. Those who try desperately to be unlike their racist
...more
Aja
May 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
If I could go around in a van handing out copies of this book on the street, I'd volunteer to do it. That's how important I think this book is to the current conversation on race. It's a brave one because I think we all know how difficult it is to look inward and examine our own problematic behavior of the past. But Irving does a good job of this, to the point where sometimes I find myself feeling second hand embarrassment from the situation. But I applaud that the author is willing to sit with ...more
Delmer
Sep 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I enjoyed this book immensely. Many of you who are reading this review may ask yourself "how can I be a better advocate for people of color?", or you may be saying to yourself, "I'm not racist", or "this couldn't possibly be relevant to me". Trust me, it is. In a frank and honest way, the author describes in a real life way what she has learned about race in the US, along with questions to ask yourself about race after each chapter. If you want to start the journey of opening your mind to a new ...more
Leah Weiser
Aug 01, 2016 rated it did not like it
I have never read the word "I" more in a book, even in other memoirs. For something supposedly about learning about other people, this was one of the most amazingly self absorbed books I have ever read.
Carol
Jul 06, 2015 rated it liked it
This is a memoir of a rich WASP who wakes up to white privilege. The author does provide some good points and strategies to make the world a more equitable place, but I would have rather had this as part of a book with multiple perspectives on the topic.
David Baer
Jul 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
Early in the book I was not sure if I could finish it, because I had trouble with the way the author was conflating socioeconomic privilege with racial privilege. Mind you, she explicitly called attention to this as a potentially valid criticism, claiming it was necessary to preserve the clarity of her message: in the end I agree with that decision. Still and all, it was pretty grating at times to hear all about her upper-middle-class life as a WASP kid in Winchester Massachusetts.
"as I moved
...more
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Anti-Racism Book Club 3 16 Jul 27, 2018 12:51PM  
UWSP Book Club: Pre-read thoughts - Waking Up White 2 14 Feb 08, 2017 11:54AM  
Bryn Mawr School ...: Waking Up White 2 19 Jul 30, 2015 10:01AM  

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Debby (Kittredge) Irving has worked since the 1980s to foster diversity, inclusiveness, and community-building. As general manager of Boston’s Dance Umbrella and later First Night, she developed both a passion for cross-cultural collaborations and an awareness of the complexities inherent in cross-cultural relationships. She has worked in public and private schools as a classroom teacher, board ...more
“If there’s a place for tolerance in racial healing, perhaps it has to do with tolerating my own feelings of discomfort that arise when a person, of any color, expresses emotion not welcome in the culture of niceness. It also has to do with tolerating my own feelings of shame, humiliation, regret, anger, and fear so I can engage, not run. For me, tolerance is not about others, it’s about accepting my own uncomfortable emotions as I adjust to a changing view of myself as imperfect and vulnerable. As human.” 19 likes
“Whiteness, it turns out, is but a pigment of the imagination.” 3 likes
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